SALT LAKE CITY — Two young girls leading a procession of community advocates pulled a red wagon filled with petitions to the Governor's Mansion Wednesday to urge the state to end its court battle against same-sex marriage.
At about the same time, the Utah Attorney General's Office issued a statement saying it intends to continue defending Utah's marriage law with an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in the coming weeks.
Attorney General Sean Reyes has a sworn duty to defend the laws of the state, according to his spokeswoman Missy Larsen.
"Utah’s Constitutional Amendment 3 is presumed to be constitutional unless the highest court deems otherwise," the statement said. The voter-approved amendment defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
In petitioning the Supreme Court, the state will not seek a full or "en banc" review of a 10th Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Kitchen v. Herbert last month. A three-judge panel found marriage is a fundamental right under the 14th Amendment, and that access to marriage cannot be denied to same-sex couples.
Utah could have requested a review from all 11 active 10th Circuit judges, but to "obtain clarity and resolution from the highest court" decided to forgo that option, according to the attorney general's office.
Wednesday's statement wasn't unexpected. The attorney general's office said on the day of the 10th Circuit ruling that it intended to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court's next term begins Oct. 6. There's no guarantee it will hear the Utah case.
Reyes declined to comment outside the statement.
Bill Duncan, a lawyer who heads the Sutherland Institute's Center for Family and Society, said it makes sense for Utah to petition the Supreme Court. He said it seems clear the court will take up a case from one of the states so it's "just as well that Utah be the lead."
The National Organization for Marriage applauded the state's decision.
"We look forward to the court taking this case and remain confident that they will uphold the right of states to define marriage in the law to reflect what it is in reality — the union of one man and one woman," the organization's president, Brian Brown, said in a prepared statement.
The Utah Pride Center said in a statement that going to the high court does expedite "moving toward equality," but in the face of court decisions in favor of same-sex marriage, it's another slap in the face to LGBT families.
"There is no reason to pursue this to the Supreme Court when governors around the country have chosen to take (the) high road and accept the decisions of the lower courts," the statement said.
Meantime, about 50 adults and children delivered petitions containing 3,820 signatures to the governor's residence asking Reyes and Gov. Gary Herbert to drop the fight to stop same-sex marriage and deny legally married couples recognition and access to second-parent adoptions.
Utah Unites for Marriage, a group that supports same-sex marriage, collected the signatures online over the past few months.
Crystal Young-Otterstrom said she and her husband, Joel, attended the event to stand up for all Utah families. Their daughter, Betty, was one of the girls pulling the wagon with petitions.
"We simply want the opportunity for LGBT families in Utah to fully commit to one another and to protect their families fully and equally under the law," she said at the mansion gate.69 comments on this story
Herbert's constituent services director, Tiffany Clason, collected the petitions in a cardboard box.
"We acknowledge the concerns of this group and appreciate whenever citizens feel the need to appropriately express their opinions to their elected officials," Herbert's spokesman Marty Carpenter said in a statement. "The governor has stated he feels all Utahns deserve clarity and finality on this issue, which is why he hopes the case will go to the Supreme Court as soon as possible."
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